It’s a breezy, beautiful day in New York City and while it feels like fall, we’re in for a hot weekend. Chris and Tom are back in their respective cities and the rest of us miss them, but we had a rad time at Basilica Soundscape. If you didn’t check out our coverage you can do so here. Our monthly jazz column is up, Tom wrote about Björk’s masterpiece Homogenic, and Chris reflected on his feels after seeing the Weeknd and Bruno Mars on two consecutive nights. We’ve got new Björk and new Vampire Weekend to look forward to — all in all, life’s alright. Check out the best songs of the week below.
If Vulnicura was the sound of Björk’s life with artist Matthew Barney shattering into pieces, then Utopia is the sound of what comes next — not a rebuilding, but a transformation. “My healed chest wound/ Transformed into a gate/ Where I receive love from/ Where I give love from,” she sings on opening track “The Gate.” (In other words, a heart.) It’s the kind of song that feels like the beginning of something — something bigger, something whole — and that makes it hard to reckon with on its own terms as a discrete piece of art. It’s long, it’s formless, and it’s hard to grasp onto, dissolving again and again from richly textured woodwinds and electronics into deep, spacious silence. It’s also beautiful. Every moment has the precision and control of a ballet, with Björk’s voice as the focal point, the prima ballerina dancing through Arca’s spare, architectural soundscape. If you let it, it’ll transport you somewhere beautiful. Utopia? –Peter
The scratchy folk songs that Haley Fohr makes as Circuit Des Yeux often sound like out-of-body experiences, so it makes sense that “Black Fly,” one of her best, would actually sort of be about an out-of-body experience. In this case, she transports us into the body of a black fly that feels like the world around them is so vast, not realizing its own insignificance. “Looking down/ If they could just look up and see/ You’re not the dark star they want you to be/ You’re just a black dot in the sky,” Fohr sings in her signature terse bellow. The song revels in its own restraint for its first half but after it breaks open, it becomes clear that it was building towards mimicking the sounds of an actual fly: the buzzing drone, wings flapping feverishly. The last few minutes of this song are a skin-crawling reverie, the sort of transformation suited for a really good installment of Animorphs (or the more traditional Kafka, but that’s boring!). And, of course, the cosmic joke is that we’re all the fly, not really realizing how small we truly are. –James
“Could life ever be sane again?” Morrissey asked that question in 1986, in a song called “Panic,” which lambasted the media for ignoring the Chernobyl disaster and instead focusing on empty pop frivolity. In 2017, though, the press presents every news item as if it were a nuclear meltdown. The effect is identical: The public has no fucking idea what’s going on, what’s real, what’s worthy of attention. Everything is different, but nothing has changed. Morrissey still gets it. When he says “Stop watching the news,” he’s still telling you to hang the DJ. When he says “The news contrives to frighten you,” he’s still telling you that all the shit they’re constantly repeating says nothing to you about your life. When he tells you to “Spend the day in bed,” he’s still saying there’s panic in the streets. But there’s peace in the sheets. “Could life ever be sane again?” That depends on who you’re listening to. I listen to Morrissey. –Michael
Halloween is coming up which means it’s time for a new… Torres album? “Helen In The Woods” is a spooky song and it tells the story of a kid being pursued by a ghoulish female named Helen. The kid comes home from school and finds Helen naked in their bed, and everyone warns them to watch out “’cause Helen’s in the woods.” Helen is the devil in Torres’ tall tale, a presence that represents sex and temptation, and Torres sings about her in this deep, demonic voice that plays out like a goofy Nick Cave or Tom Waits impersonation. She sells it, though, and this song makes your skin crawl and your stomach give out in the best way. Haunt me, Torres! –Gabriela
In his day, Serge Gainsbourg had a way of taking the cheesed-out, orchestrated-to-hell sounds of ’60s and ’70s soft-pop and making them drip with lasciviousness and despair. On her new “Deadly Valentine” single, his daughter Charlotte pulls off something similar, except with mid-’10s electro-pop. “Deadly Valentine” is a breathless, immersive six-minute zone-out. (There’s a shorter radio edit out there on the streaming services, but who needs it?) Producer SebastiAn gives Gainsbourg a gleaming electro-burble of a beat, and then he piles it high with the sort of chintzily dramatic strings that Serge used on so many of his best songs. Over the top, Gainsbourg sings in English, but her voice is so buried that it’s tough to know what she’s singing. (Whatever it is, it’s not especially pro-marriage. “With this ring, I thee wed,” she coos. Then, a moment later, “To love and to cherish according to culturally ordinance.”) But it’s not what Gainsbourg’s singing that matters. It’s the sound of that languidly awestruck voice, the way it just floats over everything. It’s the sound of slipping into infinity. –Tom